For Bill Bravin, running has been more than just a pastime. It's been a passion.
Now 68, Bravin estimates that he's run about 33,000 miles in his lifetime.
"I don't do many races any more, but I've always loved running, and I still love it,'' he said. "I've [run] around the world one and a half times.''
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Bill Bravin speaks to his runners prior to Saturday’s District 6 cross country meet.
Bravin, who recently announced his retirement as boys and girls cross country coach at Hollidaysburg Area High School after 32 seasons, said that his coaching position afforded him the best of both worlds - the opportunity to teach young athletes the discipline and technique of the sport, while fine-tuning his craft himself.
"I'm blessed in that [running] has been a lifelong hobby that I can still do, and I got paid for running with the [Hollidaysburg High School] kids while I was coaching them,'' Bravin said. "It was nice to pass on anything I know about running to the kids I coached, and when I saw the kids knock two or three minutes off their times, that was my biggest satisfaction.''
Bravin, who started running as a junior at Altoona Area High School back in the late 1950s, said that the personal effort demanded by the sport of cross country always appealed to him.''
The Bravin file
Family: Wife, Bert. Grown daughters Kathy and Julie
Education: Altoona Area High School, 1960 graduate; St. Vincent College, 1964 graduate
Career: Taught special education for 32 years in the Hollidaysburg Area School District before retiring in 1999. Coached the Hollidaysburg High School boys and girls cross country teams for 32 seasons
Career coaching record: 233-172 with the boys program, 242-154 with the girls program
"There's nothing fake in cross country,'' he said. "The kids who learn to condition themselves the best are the kids who become the most successful. You can't run three miles fast without being in good shape. I can show the runners the tools to succeed, but they have to be self-driven.''
Bravin, who has coached the Hollidaysburg programs to a combined 475 victories, doesn't play favorites among the athletes he has overseen.
"I coach for the slowest [as well as] the fastest,'' said Bravin, who retired as a special education teacher at Hollidaysburg in 1999, after 32 years. "I enjoy seeing the runners mature, improve, and hopefully, go on to successful careers and lives after they graduate from high school.''
Bravin has coached 17 PIAA cross country state tournament qualifiers at Hollidaysburg - nine girls and eight boys. Included among them are all-state [top 20] finishers Dave Maher in 1985 and Mike Umbleby in 1990. Umbleby and Sarah McMillan, who graduated in 1996, both qualified for states in the respective boys and girls meets three different times.
"I was very happy to see the kids go to states and reach their potential,'' Bravin said.
According to one of his coaching colleagues, veteran Altoona cross country coach Lee Baranik, Bravin has played an integral role in the success experienced by the Hollidaysburg runners.
"He really cares about the kids and the program at Hollidaysburg, and even though he's been retired as a teacher for some time, he's stayed involved with the cross country program as its coach,'' said Baranik. "He's really tried to put the program's schedule on the front burner, getting the program involved in big meets like the Carlisle Invitational.''
Hollidaysburg senior Aaron Gromiller has run under Bravin's direction for the past four seasons.
"He's taught me everything I know about running,'' Gromiller said. "He has really helped me become a better runner. He's good at what he does, and I appreciate everything he's done for me.''
So does long-time Hollidaysburg Area High School athletic director Dean Rossi, who values the continuity and stability that Bravin has brought to the school's cross country program.
"He's got the longest tenure of any coach in any sport at Hollidaysburg, and any time you have that much consistency over that period of time with a coach, it makes it an easy transition for the kids in the sport from year to year, which is always a plus,'' Rossi said. "I'm really going to miss the stability that he's provided.''
Bravin comes from a running family. He, his wife, Bert, and their grown daughters Kathy, 40, and Julie, 34, have all been involved in coaching cross country at various times and at various levels. Kathy and Julie were both runners at Altoona Area High School, and both are now teachers and cross country coaches - Kathy at the Big Spring Middle School near Carlisle and Julie at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Va. Kathy and Bert are also former coaches with the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School program.
Bill Bravin, who helped start the cross country program at St. Vincent College in Latrobe during his days as a student there in the early 1960s, will still be involved in coaching on a limited, volunteer basis at Hollidaysburg.
"My wife and I want to do some traveling now, so I'm letting the younger generation take over [the coaching duties],'' Bravin said. "I've had a great group of kids at Hollidaysburg, and seeing them make progress over the years has been the big thing for me as their coach.''